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Given the toll it can take on employee well-being, productivity, and turnover rates, caregiving may be one of the biggest challenges facing American employees and their employers in the 21st century. With older Americans living longer and requiring more assisted care from their working family members than ever before, the strain that caregiving places on the workforce will likely keep increasing.

Employers cannot afford to ignore the issue; instead, they must solve the recruiting and retention problems that arise when employees have caregiving needs. An effective response to this issue is a crucial factor in ensuring the stability and long-term success of your company.

By the Numbers: The Caregiving Crisis

The challenges of family caregiving are a growing concern among US workers. More than 1 in 6 Americans who work full-time or part-time also provide care for an elderly or disabled loved one, according to a 2011 Gallup-Healthways report. The mental, physical, and emotional stress of this caregiving can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including their career. According to the 2019 “Caring Company” report from the Harvard Business School, more than 80 percent of caregiving employees say their performance at work has been adversely affected by the stress and complications of family caregiving.

In addition, many employees worry that discussing their caregiving challenges at work will harm them when it comes to performance reviews, promotions, and other advancement opportunities. The difficulty of balancing work and caregiving can even drive talented employees off their career paths entirely, with nearly one-third of caregiving employees having quit a job due to its incompatibility with their duties as a caregiver, according to the Harvard Business School report.

But employees aren’t the only ones who suffer from a lack of caregiving support — so do their employers. The “Caring Company” report cites an AARP estimate that caregiving-related complications cost employers more than $6 billion in lost productivity due to disruptions to the workday, plus another $6.6 billion in hiring and training costs associated with replacing employees who quit because of caregiving responsibilities.

Giving Employees — and Employers — the Support They Need

In response to the pressures of caregiving, smart companies are actively working to make their cultures and processes more caregiver-friendly. Not only can doing so help reduce caregiver-related attrition, but it can also give employers a new asset when recruiting talent.

Here are four ways companies can create better workplace support for their caregiving employees:

1. Put Caregiving in the Communications Spotlight

Not everyone feels comfortable discussing their personal challenges at work, especially if they worry their family obligations could hold them back professionally. But caring for a loved one shouldn’t be a career-killer, and a company can’t help its employees succeed if its leaders don’t understand the challenges they face.

To prove that family caregiving is a safe topic to discuss at your company, make it a focal point of your upcoming internal communications. For example, if you or another team leader have your own experience with family caregiving, consider sharing your story as a way to invite others to discuss theirs. By mentioning this topic in your official channels, you’ll bring visibility to the issue and encourage your employees to discuss their caregiving challenges with their colleagues and managers long before their situations become emergencies.

For more expert HR insights, check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine:

2. Make Your Processes More Flexible

One thing caregivers never have enough of is time. That’s why it’s worth evaluating your company’s processes and procedures through your caregiving employees’ eyes. Ask yourself: Is this really working as efficiently as it could for everyone involved? Could this process be adapted for time-shifted or remote work, or done by smaller or decentralized teams?

Doing something as simple as livestreaming meetings (to allow for remote participation) or enabling a larger number of employees to access or approve review items (to prevent bottlenecks caused by time-strapped decision-makers) can reduce stress not just for your caregiver employees, but for your workforce in general. Revamping your processes can also create more opportunities for innovation and autonomy, which may be attractive when recruiting caregiver employees who love to contribute but need to participate on unusual schedules.

3. Highlight Family Leave and Flex Time Benefits

While many companies offer some kind of flex time or remote work, as well as maternity and/or paternity leave, those benefits don’t always apply when other family care needs arise. To maximize the effectiveness of these policies, consider offering a wider variety of personal time and paid leave options. Your caregiving employees can perform much better when they’re not spending their work time trying to calculate how many personal days they have left.

4. Create ERGs/BRGs for Caregiving Employees

Sometimes the biggest improvements come from simply making existing information more easily accessible. For example, when we asked our employees at EMD Serono how we could better support the caregivers in our own company, we realized it would be extremely helpful to create new employee resource groups/business resource groups (ERGs/BRGs) for our caregiving employees.

An ERG or BRG is an employee-focused peer support group that provides resources, information, and a representative voice within a company’s culture. It also highlights existing benefits and policies so the employees who need them can actually use them.

Caregiving shouldn’t mark the end of the career path for any employee. As companies create more robust workplace support for their caregiver employees, talented professionals will no longer feel forced to choose between their families and their careers. That’s a win for employers, workers, and families all across America.

Scott Williams is vice president, head of global patient advocacy and strategic partnerships, at EMD Serono, Inc., and cofounder of Embracing Carers.

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